Assessments are a key tool in most fields. In some industries they are provided through do-well/do-better meetings, in others through critical feedback loops, and, in mine, through teacher evaluations and student report cards. In order to be effective assessments use rubrics to assess key data points, frequently against objective standards, on behavior, knowledge, and performance. Six months into his presidency Donald Trump has come up short on all counts.
People will focus on his numbers: 991 tweets, 42 bills signed into law, 40 days out golfing, one news conference, and zero pieces of major legislation. Some will highlight his 38.8 percent approval rating. His approval rating reflects the public’s lack of approval with what he is doing. But, while the legislative output and effort are low, Trump’s growth is in need of evaluation — has he learned anything?
Trump’s administration has shown limited progress. After months of campaigning against Barack Obama’s Iran deal, he called it “disastrous” and questioned “who would make that deal?” Trump has so far allowed the successful diplomacy to continue to work. The Iran deal has delivered increases in safety and security with low costs. Presidents face steep learning curves; an admission that his criticisms were misplaced and wrong would be a fantastic presentation of his growth, but he hasn’t. We are left wondering, “Is he only doing the right thing by accident?” Or worse, is his inability to lead the only reason the deal is still in place?
Airwars.org, a watchdog group, tells us that since his inauguration, Trump’s civilian kill rate eclipses Obama’s with “upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration.” Trump has taken Obama’s “highly unsatisfactory” policy and pushed it into the realm of “complete failure.” The U.S. is alleged to have used white phosphorus in Syria; the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is a violation of international law. The significant increase in civilian casualties is blood on his hands, but he has not developed moral accountability.
Trump’s isolationist agenda of withdrawing from the Paris Accord and abdicating the United State’s role in the G20 reveal strikingly poor leadership. His all-or-nothing strategy may have done him well as a business leader, where profit was the bottom line, but he has shown no growth in taking on his new role. His competitive attitude has lost more than it has gained and previously collaborative relationships are disappearing. His impotence in dealing with increased threats from North Korea is another unfortunate example of this reality. Trump is a one trick pony: he bosses, bullies, and makes threats. He would like for other people to do his work for him, he has made quite a career out of it, but it is highly ineffective in his new position. Trump’s $54 billion budget increase in military spending showcases his awareness of his administrations’ lack of diplomatic ability. Trump needs to unlearn the fictional narrative that military force is good policy or strategy and understand why force should only be a “last option.” He also needs a primer on peace dividends.
Trump’s six-month grade is not just reflective of turning the campaign slogan: “I would bomb the [expletive] out of them” into foreign policy. His grade is reflective of his inability to learn, adapt, change, evolve, improve, etc. and he simply hasn’t matured in his role. There is but a single thing to be grateful for: he hasn’t used the nukes yet. The “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” president has not actually killed us all, yet (though he may want to)! Giving credit where it is due, for keeping the Iran Deal in place and for not using nuclear weapons yet, Trump gets an F+ and not just an F.
Areas for improvement: Donald Trump has well-developed avoidance and competiveness; he will be greatly benefitted by developing the other problem-solving temperaments of accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Trump is behind in filling key positions; these vacancies will continue to limit his ability to develop as expected. His inability to work well with others could be blocking his understanding of the importance of working with a complete team. These deficiencies will have an exaggerated and cumulative impact. Making excuses for them instead of taking responsibility demonstrates an awareness of the problem but indicates a fundamental inability to move forward. Trump could benefit from competent mentoring, but, more generally, he needs improvement applying new knowledge and skills sets.
Most significantly, however, he needs to be realistic and gain situational awareness. He won the office of president without winning the popular vote and proceeded to ignore the voters’ mandate. Since his inauguration he has continued to ignore record low approval ratings and record high disapproval ratings. The investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the outcome of the election is clearly distracting him from his responsibilities, and he should be asking questions like “how can I broker a strong North Korea Deal?” should replace “who am I allowed to pardon? Am I allowed to pardon myself?” Trump needs to pivot away from what it takes to become the hyper-touchy president to what it takes to become a good president, or, preferably, he should resign.
Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association.